Tuesday, September 19, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Fraught With Meaning

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem in “Mother!” 
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Better to Be Orphaned Than Spend a Night with "Mother!" The Emmys — Too Much Trump, Just Enough Ponytail!

“PLEASE tell them to leave!!”

If Jennifer Lawrence says that once, she says it a dozen times to Javier Bardem in Darren Aronofsky’s new film, “Mother!”  Lawrence is referring to the strangers (including Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris) who keep arriving at their monumentally monstrous house, doing all sorts of awful things. 

But as far as I am concerned, somewhere along the line, sometime during filming, Lawrence got wise to the mess she was in and improvised that exclamation as a warning to audiences — “Leave! Get out while you can!  You have 90 more minutes to save yourselves!  Go to the Olive Garden!”
"Save yourself!"
The incomprehensible, allegorical mess that is “Mother!” is significant in that students of film will now look back at past Aronofsky entries such as “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan” and note soberly:  “See, that’s when he was making movies with a coherent plot!”  Yep, that’s how crazy “Mother!” is. 

This is the story.  Oh, first of all, nobody has a name. Bardem (Him) is a writer, Lawrence — filmed in not-so-glorious intense close-ups — is his pregnant wife, Mother.  People — the above mentioned Pfeiffer (Woman) and Harris (Man) — keep arriving uninvited, along with fans of Bardem.  The house itself seems to be a living entity. Nothing that happens, not a word that is spoken makes the slightest bit of sense. Although it is Fraught With Meaning — religious, cultural, sexual, you name it. Or, try to name it!  
Unwelcome strangers Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris.
I am going out on a limb, maybe, to suggest that director Aronofsky didn’t want anything to make sense, was attempting to provoke us — certainly he has in the past — and that maybe we shouldn’t take it seriously.  At all.  It has been advertised looking like a horror film, which it is not, although it does contain one of the most horrible sequences I’ve ever seen in a film. 

I will admit that as irritated as I was by the movie, I wanted to see it out — perhaps there would be something at the conclusion to hold onto, a possibly logical denouement.  That I did not find.  Although as I left the theater I heard somebody say: “Well, at least the end made sense.”  I resisted the impulse to call in a hit on this person.
Losing her mind ...
However, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there will be a select, intelligent cadre of reviewers and audience members who will love it, or be fascinated and/or predict that in time it will be appreciated for what it really is. (As to the latter, I can only hope I live long enough to have “Mother!” explained to me.)

The acting honors, such as they are, fall to Pfeiffer and Harris. Bardem does his sinister/charming thing. Miss Lawrence needs a sabbatical.
Despite my unsophisticated reaction to “Mother!” I cannot in good conscience make a blanket “save your money” statement.  This will be a film for certain people — people I know and respect — to ponder and chew over and decide its genius.  Or at least, daring, ambitious filmmaking. To those I say welcome to the darkness, and when you emerge, explain it to me.
I WENT to see “Mother!” on Sunday afternoon.  That night I watched (on and off) the Emmy Awards. Oddly, I found the blindingly over-lit, Hi-Definition orgy of self-congratulation more horrifying in some ways than Aronofsky’s movie.

I could not stand the Trump jokes.  Doesn’t anyone yet realize the more he’s mentioned and mocked, the more he wins?   A show biz night without one reference to him could have ended his presidency on Sunday — a complete emotional breakdown. Or ended the world; he might have attacked North Korea to get some attention.
I have yet to see “The Handmaid’s Tale” (don’t have Hulu) but I am sure it and star Elisabeth Moss are worthy winners. 

Couldn’t have been happier about Nicole Kidman, John Lithgow, Riz Ahmed, Alexander Skarsgard, Laura Dern, John Oliver and Donald Glover and Sterling K. Brown. (Glover and Sterling’s shows, “This is Us” and “Atlanta” respectively, I am not overly familiar with — but I loved their speeches.) 
Big Little Embrace.
As for Julia Louis-Dreyfus — enough.  Six in a row? Really?  I am as impressed as anybody by her talent, her wit, her eerily unchanging physical appearance, but it is past time for her to do a Candice Bergen and take herself out of the nominating process. She has a total of eight acting Emmys! Pamela Adlon, Tracee Ellis-Ross and Ellie Kemper were where my hopes were. (Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Allison Janney are awards-heavy ladies as well.)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on her way to another Emmy.
I also admit I had my fingers crossed for “Westworld’s” Thandie Newton in another category. To me, she is the heart and soul of that so far (to me) disappointing series.  She is a brilliant actress.

Either I’ve seen too many awards shows — this is entirely possible! — or the new culture, social media, apps and streaming, etc — seems to have drained all life and excitement from them.  Wait!  That’s misty nostalgia talking.  Most awards ceremonies are bereft of life and excitement. Even back in the day.
"These violent delights have violent ends." 
Except — there was one real thrill.  Miss Jane Fonda in vibrant pink and a tossing an unapologetic ponytail that screamed 1967!  It was wonderful to see Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin, the classic “Nine to Five” trio, reunited onstage. 

But, Jane, Jane! You are still “Barbarella psychedella” to me! (And yes, there remains a kinda cockle shell about you ...)
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